West Croydon. Hardly an exotic location, one would have thought. Yet, judging by Southern railway’s pitiful efforts at running a rail network, it would have been an easier task to get to Mordor. For after four rounds of delays and the inevitably over-crowded train, I arrived in Croydon hot, furious and over 40 minutes late. To a one-act play. Unabated anger was only the most primary of emotions I was experiencing, coupled in equal measure with disappointment at having missed a fantastic-sounding production, and guilt. Guilt that Dippermouth, a relatively fledging theatre company, albeit with a string of successes already to its name, had been expecting me to review its latest work, Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter.
I cannot in good conscience review a show to which I was so shamefully late, and so I decide instead to stay and discuss the production afterwards with Director, Jack Gamble, and his Co-Producer Quentin Beroud, who also stars as Gus. The team, both recent graduates, are sharing a flapjack, one of the many culinary delights of the Matthews Yard Theatre, as Gamble explains that the decision to stage one of Pinter’s best-known early works hinged on their discovery of the former warehouse: “the space just fits the show, there’s a real, tangible ‘feel’ about it and it makes doing [the play] such a treat.” Beroud, a Croydon local, also asserts the importance of exploring the theatrical heritage of the area, after the demolition of the old Warehouse Theatre last year: “the whole area has been the subject of a regeneration process, and it’s been really exciting to be part of the whole cultural re-launch. There’s a real sense of community here.”
Gamble says that he fell in love with Pinter’s work after seeing a production of The Dumb Waiter in 2007 (starring Lee Evans and Jason Isaacs), and a chance meeting with Harry Burton, director of the Channel 4 documentary Working with Pinter was incredibly inspirational and useful in understanding what the playwright was trying to achieve. The rehearsal process was conducted in Hackney Downs studios, not far from where Pinter himself was brought up, and Gamble admits that he was “incredibly excited by the possibility of learning more about one of my idols”.
Although Pinter’s plays are often typified by the paucity of language and meaning, the team believe that the playwright’s opinions do come across in the script: “He doesn’t always tie up the loose ends, but he does make decisions which inform the narrative. There’s no vagueness,” insists Gamble. Beroud agrees, adding that from an actor’s perspective “you usually need an impetus. But with Pinter, you have to keep all the options open, especially for the audience. It’s more interesting and more fun that way, to keep open all the doors for interpretation, as there are usually multiple meanings in play at once.”
This is the point at which Beroud’s co-star Adam Drew enters the conversation, also with flapjack in hand, to say “I still don’t really know what’s happening”. This seems unlikely from a trio who talk so eloquently and enthusiastically about their latest project. “We are making new discoveries every performance,” continues Drew. “All the pauses… they mean something different every night.” Both Gamble and Beroud are quick to point out the humour in the script: “I think the play is hilarious,” says Gamble, “but it also tries to capture the gravity of the situation, it doesn’t shy away from that. It’s constantly treading that line between laughter and revulsion.” As such, the onstage dynamic between the duo has been informed by classic comedy and theatrical double acts ranging from Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Abbott and Costello. “There’s a classic power play between the two. Ben (Drew’s character) starts off as the assertive, dominant male, but underneath he is fragile. It’s a very sophisticated political viewpoint, and it’s actually quite sad. There is a sort of comedy, but it’s kind of uncomfortable, which is why it’s so brilliant.”
So why come to the show? There’s a silence so long that Pinter himself would have been proud of it. “It’s a considered, affordable, lovingly-made version of one of the truly great plays”, replies Gamble, eventually. “We’re in this fantastic space, which is new and exciting,” Beroud continues. “Oh, and it’s under an hour,” concludes Gamble. The Dumb Waiter is the final show of Dippermouth’s maiden theatrical season, and although they won’t tell me what they have planned for next season, they are hugely excited about it.
The Dumb Waiter is at Matthews Yard Theatre until 27 February. For more information and to book tickets, visit Dippermouth’s website.